Just about two weeks ago, things looked awfully bleak for the Boston Bruins. Having just fired their long-time head coach, the Bruins were set to play a difficult three games under a new boss before heading into the bye week. To make matters worse, the Bruins sat two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and just two points ahead of the Florida Panthers. Both teams had several games in hand on the Bruins that they would make up during the approaching bye week.
The clouds had been darkening for some time. Thunder could be heard in the distance, rapidly approaching. Then, just when the sky was about to open up, set to unleash a hellish storm upon the city of Boston, the sun came bursting through. Just as nobody predicted, the Bruins stormed out to three straight wins under their new head coach, defeating the San Jose Sharks, the Vancouver Canucks, and, most importantly, the Montreal Canadiens (in shutout fashion).
Heading into the bye week, the Bruins sat in third place in the Atlantic Division. While in a playoff spot, the B’s were by no means comfortable. The bye week would allow the teams surrounding them in the standings to make up the games that they had in hand. Had their Eastern Conference foes gone streaking during the Bruins’ bye week, Boston could’ve found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
Instead, the Bruins survived the bye week while remaining in the playoff picture. Having had an entire week without games to settle in under new head coach Bruce Cassidy, the B’s went to battle once again against the Sharks, this time on the Pacific coast. Tuukka Rask backstopped Boston to a 2-1 overtime win, making it a perfect four straight for Cassidy’s Bruins, who now sit a point ahead of the Maple Leafs with just a single game in hand.
B’s Back in the Thick of Things
All of a sudden, the Bruins are right back in the thick of things, which has us thinking: Are the Bruins a playoff team after all? First things first: the Bruins are hot. Since Cassidy took over, the B’s have undoubtedly had an extra jump in their step. They’ve played a more aggressive offensive game, and it’s paid off so far.
In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cassidy’s four straight wins put him one win away from the franchise record for consecutive wins by a replacement coach (Bep Guidolin and Harry Sinden won four straight after taking over the Bruins in 1973 and 1980, respectively), and two wins shy of the NHL record (Mario Tremblay won six straight after taking over the Canadiens in the 1995-96 season). The point is, the Bruins are playing motivated hockey right now.
“The guys have responded to the change,” said Cassidy, per The Boston Globe. “Everyone has their own reasons why. I am just glad that they have and recognize if we want to be playing into the late spring we had to win our share of games. We’ve been able to do that the last four.”
The Bruins are headed in the right direction, but can it last? As of now, the key is to take things day by day. They’ve played some very good hockey since the coaching change, and the longer they can ride that wave, the better. This week will be especially important for the Bruins, who take on the Ducks and Kings back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday night before heading to Dallas to close out their Western Conference road trip on Sunday.
Challenges Down the Stretch
Looking a little way into the future, the Bruins have a couple of questions that will need answering. For starters, this streak won’t last forever, so Boston’s response to their first loss under Cassidy will be very important. The Bruins will need to prove that the spark that has emerged since Cassidy took over will last instead of being a temporary boost to a team that is ultimately doomed to fail.
On top of that, it’ll be interesting to see how Cassidy chooses to roll his netminders since Boston has had much better success with Tuukka Rask in net. Ex-head coach Claude Julien was criticized harshly the past two seasons for overworking Rask down the stretch, but given Boston’s success rate without him, Cassidy will have some tough decisions to make in the next month and a half.
And finally, the Bruins need to keep their fate in their own hands. The B’s got lucky that their divisional foes didn’t leapfrog them in the standings during their bye week, but they shouldn’t have to rely on other teams to lose. Now that they’re back in playoff contention, the road to the postseason is clear. If the Bruins can continue winning, then they’ll be playing hockey into April. It’s as simple as that.
So here’s the rub: the Bruins are by no means safe. But they’re in a much better position than they were two weeks ago. They’re still on the playoff bubble; however, they now sit on the favorable edge of it. If the first four games under Cassidy are any indication of how the rest of the season will go, then the B’s could very realistically see themselves back in the postseason for the first time in three years.